The Science of Silent Reading

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In a New Yorker piece about how women became readers, Joan Acocella describes the moment St. Augustine saw “his mentor, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, reading without moving his lips”:

“His heart searched out the sense,” [Augustine wrote,] “but his voice and tongue were at rest.” A new idea of reading was taking hold. Before, that word usually involved not just moving your lips but actually speaking: reading some text, such as a sermon or edict, to an audience. Now people had started reading alone…

Centuries later, people are still trying to figure out exactly how silent reading works. One scientific study may have some answers.


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →